G. Jeffrey Taylor and Linda M. V. Martel, University of Hawai'i
Space science grabs the attention and captivates the imagination of students, teachers, and the general public. Who could not be excited by the debate about the evidence for life on Mars or the idea that ice is sequestered in permanently shadowed regions of the Moon? Or the discovery and importance of Comet Hale-Bopp? But people will only get excited about these things if they know about them. Where can people find clear and accurate information about the hot new discoveries in planetary science? The answer is Planetary Science Research Discoveries (PSRD), an online magazine in which planetary scientists are sharing their ideas and discoveries with a wide audience.
The main goal of PSRD is to seize the attention of students, teachers, and the general public and assist the understanding of science. We know planetary exploration is a surefire hit with students, but it can even kindle a spark in adults who are generally more concerned with their jobs, their company's possible downsizing, raising their children, and the success of their local NFL or NBA team. The interdisciplinary nature of planetary science makes it especially suited for raising the scientific literacy of the public. A story like the possible evidence for fossil life in ALH 84001 includes chemistry, biology, geology, and physics when we consider everything that needs to be explained about the rock, how it got here, the environment on ancient Mars, and the nature of microorganisms. The science in PSRD is told in carefully crafted prose and graphics to reach a wide audience of nonscientists and scientists alike.
We all publish articles in scientific journals, but in reality, our research is not done until it has been communicated to the general public. And that means stories written with less technical jargon. So a second goal of the online magazine is to provide a format, separate from the purely formal research journals, for expressing the discoveries in planetary science to, in a sense, pay back the public who funds our research. They paid for it, why not tell them what we found out? A third reason for PSRD is aimed specifically at students and teachers: to help advance the goals in education and outreach put forward by NASA and the Office of Space Science (OSS). For example, the NASA Strategic Plan states, "We will communicate widely the content, relevancy, and excitement of NASA's missions and discoveries to inspire and to increase understanding and the broad application of science and technology." A final reason is purely self-serving: Space exploration needs continued, and perhaps passionate, public support to maintain any reasonable level of funding. The more we convey the excitement of planetary science, the more inclined the public will be to support its expense.
HOW PSRD OPERATES
PSRD is a joint effort of OSS, Hawai'i Space Grant College, and the University of Hawai'i's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) and Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology. It is managed by the two authors of this article. We have developed publication policies aimed at preventing wacky ideas from polluting our electronic pages, yet allowing exciting new ideas to appear. The key requirement is that the work be published or in press in a reputable, refereed journal. Each article is reviewed by the researchers whose work is being featured as well as by our board of editors, with emphasis on accuracy, clarity, and ease of navigation (downloading time, layout, links, etc.). The editorial board consists of Gordon McKay (NASA Johnson Space Center), Karen Meech (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawai'i), Virgil Sharpton (Lunar and Planetary Institute), and Anita Sohus (Jet Propulsion Laboratory).
Topics featured in PSRD span the research programs sponsored by OSS. We are prepared to provide writing, editing, and HTML coding for any article published in PSRD, but we also enthusiastically invite our colleagues to submit their own manuscripts, graphics, and images to us. If needed, we will create additional graphics and add links to the ever-expanding PSRD glossary. We provide online citation guidelines for full referencing of every article. Online archiving assures the continuous accessibility of each article regardless of publication date. Future plans include more use of animations and more interactive modes of presentation, but not at the expense of content, clarity, or expedient downloading times.
PSRD IN THE OVERALL SCHEME OF NASA EDUCATION AND OUTREACH
Why write an article for PSRD? Besides inspiring students to learn science, there is a practical reason for sharing our discoveries: to enlist support for NASA's research and analysis programs. These programs nurture the long-range research needed for fundamental discoveries and mission planning. Except for dramatic, first-order observations made by missions, real understanding of the solar system comes from long-term research and analysis. To ensure continued funding for these programs, we need to have the support of the general public and the K-12 educational establishment. PSRD, with the help of the planetary science community, can help gather that support and educate students and the general public at the same time. Finally, NASA and OSS are committed to effective programs of education and outreach and plans for such programs are required in today's research proposals. A good way to partially fulfill these important requirements is to have your discoveries shared on line in PSRD.
So, please pay us a visit at www.soest.hawaii.edu/PSRdiscoveries. Use the site in your classes. Tell your friends and your children's teachers about it. Send us a summary of one of your recent articles for publication in PSRD. People will get excited about planetary science ideas and discoveries only if they know about them. We can be reached through the web site or at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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